Robert, tell me about yourself and what The Advisory Board Company does.
Robert Musslewhite: Unlike many of your interviewees, I’m not the founder of the company. I was really fortunate to find the company eight years ago after spending some time at McKinsey, and before that, being trained as a lawyer. I immediately realized what a special place this company is. First and foremost, we have an incredible team that’s very engaged and an incredible group of employees that cares a lot about improving healthcare. I think that’s really special.
In terms of what we do, we partner with senior executive teams at over 2,800 hospitals and health systems. We focus on improving clinical, financial, and operational performance. The focus is through this network to identify and service proven, demonstrable best practices, communicate these out to our members, and help them install them to drive performance improvement.
Increasingly, If you look over the past several years, not just through our traditional best practice research, which a lot of our members and member executives know us for, but also through hosted analytic software tools. Most of them have the same format of pulling critical information from hospital IT systems and translating it into key performance metrics, which we load into analytic dashboards that hospital executives and staff can use to drive and hard-wire performance improvement. Today we’re doing this across all key performance areas for the hospital, so things like value-based care, accountable care, physician management, quality, revenue cycle, clinical operation, supply chain, etc.
If you put all that together, we have a deeper and more comprehensive set of services for our members than we had traditionally. That’s a really exciting path for us.
Do you still consider yourself a consulting firm rather than a software vendor?
Robert Musslewhite: No, I think increasingly we consider ourselves a technology company. More than half of what we do is on the technology side today.
I do think the best practice research is such an important part of who we are as a company. It forces us to focus on the practices that matter — what moves the needle in performance, what doesn’t. It forces us to communicate those practices out clearly and think about how to make those practices actionable for hospital executives so they can use them.
If you think about the evolution, as we’ve developed these technology products, it’s based on the insights from the research side and on focusing on helping install best practices and help hospital executives and teams capitalize on the learning that we have on the best practices in a more targeted and tangible way.
The Crimson and Southwind acquisitions obviously expanded your offerings. What’s your vision for the company and what do you see in the future?
Robert Musslewhite: If you think about what’s going on with our hospital and health system members, they’re really at the nexus of transformative change. There’s all kinds of new pressures and imperatives that they’re facing. That’s causing them to change the things they need to do to manage successfully in this environment. It’s pushed up the change to the company.
We’re becoming deeper and more comprehensive in our abilities to partner with hospitals to help them address these challenges. If you go back eight years ago, you would have said we’re a fantastic best practice research provider in helping hospitals understand best practices. Today, we do a lot more to not just help them understand those, but to hard-wire them through technology like Crimson. We also provide services, support, and management services to help bring those practices to bear on the ground level. That’s what Southwind helps do.
The previous model was more publishing than it was consulting in some ways, where you consolidated best practices and presented them really well. How do you transform from being the best practices aggregator to somebody who’s actually out there solving problems?
Robert Musslewhite: It’s a great question. In some ways, it’s a big change, so there are some operational implications. We have a technology development team. We have an office in India that helps with all the data management and the technology development. There’s a lot that implies about our hiring and recruiting practices and the types of expertise we need to have.
On the other hand, it’s really not a big change at all. We’re still focused on the same thing, which is to help hospitals and health systems understand and use best practices in better and better ways. The metrics and the tools are based on best practice insights. We provide benchmarks across the network of members that we have to help members understand where they fall on their performance, where to focus, and which practices they should be employing to help them improve on that dimension.
Southwind and our other services business provide support when a member needs either physician practice management support or consulting support to embed those best practices and to hard-wire them into their institutions. So from that sense, it really hasn’t been a change at all in terms of our focus in what we want to do help our members.
What are the most pressing issues for your membership and how can you help them in ways that other consulting firms can’t?
Robert Musslewhite: There are obviously a lot of pressing issues out there today. To drill it down to a few is always hard. I would say the number one issue that everyone is facing is the shift in Medicare reimbursement that everyone knows is coming. It creates cost pressure, but it is not the same type of cost pressure that hospitals saw a couple of years ago, where it was “cut, cut, cut” trying to make budget this year.
It’s much more about evolving the business models to be able to manage on a continuing basis what we call Medicare break-even, or success under Medicare margins. That involves bunch of different capability enhancements, from revenue capture to expense management on both on the clinical and on the supply side. Expanding capacity on the right places and improving case mix and top-level growth. There are a lot of different dimensions to that that are driven by the changes that you see in the market today with Medicare and increasingly on the commercial side of reimbursement.
Your work is very targeted to the CIO audience as well. We do a lot of research for hospital CIOs, and what I think is neat there and different is that we focus on the executive suite set of issues and then translate those into what matters from that set of issues and how the CIOs should be responsive there. Rather than just making research that’s targeted for the CIO, it’s in the context of what are the broader health system imperatives and why is that important to the CIO.
Paul, turning to you, give me some background about yourself and then talk about the Crimson product line.
Paul Roscoe: I started my professional life as a lowly management accountant in the British National Health Service many, many moons ago. I’ve been involved in healthcare IT in Europe and in the US for over 20 years.
Prior to the Advisory Board, I was general manager of Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group. I came into that organization alongside Rob Seliger, building the Sentillion business from its infancy and startup phase to the pre-eminent identity access management solution out there in the marketplace that was ultimately acquired by Microsoft.
It was a pretty good decision for me to come to the Advisory Board for many reasons. One, amazing people. Two, as you’re starting to get a sense from and many of our members who’ve experienced our technology first hand every day, an amazing set of technology that the Advisory Board hasn’t historically been known for. A deep sense of commitment to doing the right thing for the membership. All of those combined made it an easy decision for me to come on board and to manage the Crimson business.
When we think about Crimson, we think about it as a Platform with a capital P for aligning hospitals with physicians as they think about the challenges that they’re facing, as they’re rethinking the healthcare network and the reshaping the health system’s role in managing populations of healthcare. Clearly they spend a lot of time thinking about how they should align themselves with physicians.
We created this analytic platform that helps them in a number of different ways. Firstly, a lot of health systems are thinking about how they can secure alignment with physicians, and from that perspective, how they can understand who their most important physicians are, from both the clinical and financial perspective, to target for growth through good old physician liaison outreach or through employment. Given the referral patterns that we see in the marketplace these days, the relationship between docs who are the biggest influencers, and that those the ones that we want to like us and what kind of incentives do we want to build with them. Think of this as like network building — securing physician alignment.
Secondly, clearly you’ve heard this a lot from the people you speak to. The big challenge is how do we work with those health systems and physicians to reduce cost and advance quality? We need to within this domain demonstrate that we can only not only measure physician performance, but frankly not just measure it, but engage with physicians and provide tools that engage our physicians, not just an analyst or a VP of quality. Those are important, but a real change comes from engaging physicians in conversation, looking for the outlier both from a positive and negative perspective, and then finding ways to remediate that to bring that into a high-performing organization.
We think these two things are essential whether you’re in a fee-for-service world or whether you are in a value-based or risk-oriented world.
What we’re now starting to see our members think more about and what Crimson is starting to help them with is the shift from not only maximizing in an inpatient setting, but trying to find ways of transforming ambulatory care. Given the burden of unprofitable patients with chronic conditions, many of our members are investing in – for want of a better description – a medical perimeter around their inpatient facility. The purpose of this infrastructure is to do exactly the opposite from what we’ve done in the past couple of decades – keep those patients out of the hospital; treat them in the ambulatory setting; create the medical homes, care teams, and health coaches, all that good stuff; and invest in ambulatory EMRs and CI programs. That has a huge implication from a technology platform.
The final piece of the puzzle is once you figure out your network, you got the right physicians, you’ve reduced cost, you’ve improved quality, you got a great ambulatory environment — how are we now going to manage populations of healthcare patients? How do we provide analytical tools and competencies to help a provider act in some ways as a payer would, and give them access to technology and data that they typically haven’t had?
Those are the four challenges and the underpinnings of what Crimson has been built to provide on this platform.
You offer CPOE tools. Do you have any tips or best practices to share, or anything to say about the status of CPOE?
Paul Roscoe: From a Crimson point of view, one of the three areas that we’re focused on is how to measure the effectiveness of the order sets that are getting used in CPOE. We’ve built an interesting set of analytics that hospitals are now deploying to help them understand if the evidence that they’re using in their day-to-day clinical practice is actually driving the outcomes and efficiencies that they want it to do.
Clearly CPOE is being well adapted. There are still opportunities for us to make sure that we are optimizing the delivery of evidence-based medicine. Being able to have analytical tool that allows you to measure that performance across a set of physicians, across a set of hospitals. I think one of the things that’s unique in some ways to Crimson is the ability to benchmark your performance, not only against your peers in your hospital, but on a wide national basis — give me all the neurosurgeons in this particular size of the cohort.
Hospitals are so excited to get a clinical system in place that they often stop at just consolidating the order sets and steering physicians to the center of the guardrails. Will they need to go back now and think about the evidence-based approach and try to not just improve efficiency, but to change practice patterns?
Paul Roscoe: We’re already seeing it. Even the most advanced CPOE deployments that I would put up there in the US have used Crimson to go back to evaluate, now that they’ve got many years of experience under their belt, their performance against those order sets. What they’ve found is that there are significant cost and quality improvements that can come from testing the validity of those order sets, making changes to them, and then reevaluating the performance of it. We’ve seen some quite startling ROI from our members within a year to a year and a half of them deploying Crimson, particularly in an environment where they’ve got sophisticated order sets.
What are some of the IT pitfalls to avoid when working on clinical integration?
Paul Roscoe: From an IT perspective, one of the biggest challenges that you find in the clinical integration environment is that the hospitals are aligning themselves with independent physicians, hence the nature of clinical integration. One of the challenges that many of those hospitals are finding is how do you get good quality data out of the independent practices? You’re aligning yourself with 50 or 60 practices. Each of those practices has different ambulatory electronic medical records, practice management systems with different degrees of interoperability with them. What we have spent a lot our development effort on is building an integration platform that allows us to take this data out of these systems in a very automated fashion.
The second challenge you will find increasingly in a clinical integration environment, how do you link across the continuum? How do you link data that is in the inpatient setting with data that you find in the ambulatory setting? We’ve also set about that problem by building what we call a UPI, Unified Person Index, sort of a mini-EMPI that is right-sized for our use. It allows us to track patients and physicians across the continuum and look at them holistically.
Robert, any concluding thoughts?
In the broad picture, it’s a really challenging time to be a hospital executive. It’s a time of great change, but also a time of great opportunity. From a company perspective, we want to be aggressive in making investments in the improvements and the product rollouts to be sure that we’re right there by our members’ sides in helping them address these challenges. It’s been really exciting to see how big a role Crimson is playing in the market today. The evolution we have planned for Crimson to continue to match what’s going on in the market is very exciting to me.
When I think of what that means to the Advisory Board, the continued growth is exciting. The innovation it forces us to do is exciting. But at the same time, what I and almost all of our employees would say that they love most about the company is the continued focus on our mission of helping our members. People here get really excited about the prospect of improving healthcare, and to do that in close partnership with a group of executives in a time of pressure and change is tremendously exciting.
I think it’s very exciting. It’s also exciting to see the next generation of analytics solutions that we can really impact value and care in the healthcare environment. We’re bringing to market a set of solutions that are very much focused on starting to inflect performance in a real-time environment when the patient is still in the hospital. Analytical solutions can be very valuable when looking historically, but there’s a real opportunity to inflect while the patient’s still in the hospital.
We’re coming out with a set of products that are focused on how we prioritize that information. How do we get predictions of which patients to focus on into the caregiver’s hands at the point of care in a real-time setting? That’s very exciting for me.